Can Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party play a consequential role in the coming general elections?
About six years ago, when the Aam Aadmi Party arrived on the political scene riding on the popularity of the anti-corruption movement, it got off to a great electoral start in the national capital the very next year. With conditional support from the Congress, it managed to pip the Bharatiya Janata Party to the post after the 2013 Delhi assembly elections.
Anti-corruption crusader-turned-AAP boss Arvind Kejriwal could become the chief minister of New Delhi within a year after the birth of the fledgling party not just because of the great beacon of hope his party came with but also due to the Delhi public’s immense sense of disappointment with the long-ruling Congress dispensation.
However, even before completing two months in power, the AAP government resigned over the Jan Lokpal Bill, thus squandering away its first big opportunity to prove its political mettle before the nation – a move Kejriwal would regret not long afterwards.
In the 2014 general elections, even though just four out of the 400-plus candidates fielded by AAP won, it was seen as a positive sign. With those four wins coming in Punjab, it was clear that the AAP was at least beginning to take root somewhere outside of Delhi.
That positive feeling and a good deal of course-correction by the party in Delhi saw it once again win over the people of the national capital – and this time to such an extent that it won the 2015 Delhi assembly elections with brute majority (67 seats in the 70-seat Delhi assembly, compared to the 28 it won previously).
This time around, however, the party has been more careful and responsible with the reins it has been handed by the Delhi denizens. But its original plans of becoming a national party with a strong presence in states across the country is far from realised. It has struggled to have that even in neighbouring Punjab.
Operating under the hostile shadow of the BJP government at the Centre, the Kejriwal government in Delhi had been until a few weeks ago maintaining an aggressive anti-BJP stance while keeping the Congress at arm’s length. But even then the AAP party leadership had been clear about a few things.
“Our anti-BJP stand is very clear … We are also not a part of the grand alliance. But we feel it is important to stop the BJP.”
He said the important thing is not whether AAP is part of an alliance or not but “until the opposition alliance is formed, with or without the AAP, it will be difficult to stop the BJP. A coalition is the need of the hour to stop the BJP and if there is an equation on that throughout the country it will be helpful”.
“We [AAP] feel there is no discussion in the country on serious issues related to farmers, youth and the economy. There is an attempt to disturb the communal atmosphere of the nation. It is important for the nation and for the democracy to have a coalition against the BJP throughout the country.”
He urged the parties to stand together to raise serious issues during the general elections, which the BJP will try to “hide with non-issues” like the Ram Temple.
“For the 2019 elections, the BJP will bring and discuss non-issues. It will try to make issues out of non-issues and has started doing this with the Ram Temple discussion. They did not and will not speak about the employment to youths, black money, the price of the dollar, petrol and diesel,” Singh said.
The National Spokesperson of the AAP also said Modi, in his speeches, never discusses his poll promises. “So, even if we speak about the work, what exactly has he done? It is demonetisation that broke the backbone of the economy.”
“India is an emotional country and the Prime Minister is taking advantage of this. He is an expert in raising emotional issues but never speaks on serious issues like Rafale. It doesn’t matter what the caste of the Prime Minister is, or what he did before becoming PM. We want to know about black money, bullet trains, farmers’ issues and when the rupee will reach 40 [to the dollar].”
Speaking about the strategy of AAP for 2019, he said the party will contest in 80-100 seats across the nation. “The party will fight elections in all the seats in Delhi, Haryana, Punjab and Goa. We will also contest some seats in other states.”
On December 10, Kejriwal attended a meeting of senior leaders of 20-plus opposition parties – including UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, former Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and H.D. Deve Gowda, Chief Ministers Mamata Banerjee, N. Chandrababu Naidu, NCP leader Sharad Pawar and DMK leader M.K. Stalin – that resolved to work together to “defeat the BJP-RSS” and to expose the ruling party’s “corruption”.
And soon after the results of the five state assembly elections were out, the AAP celebrated BJP’s heartbreak in the Hindi heartland despite not having won a single seat itself in three out of the five states where it was contesting.
Senior AAP leader Gopal Rai explained that the main aim of AAP in the three states was to strengthen and expand the party, which the party did successfully.
“We contested the election with an aim to expand the party. With these elections, the party managed to achieve this aim. The campaign was done at the local level. The party has successfully reached villages in each area in the three states,” he said.
“The results hint at an end of the BJP and the the Modi era in the country. The people want a change. The Modi wave has also ended. This will also be reflected in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The people have selected the most powerful parties in each state against the BJP. The results show that the locally strong parties have emerged strongest to defeat the BJP. The Congress was strong in three states, so people went with it, while in Telangana people selected TRS,” Rai continued.
The results, he added, also show that the AAP will be the strongest party in Delhi to challenge the BJP in 2019 and to do the same, he said the AAP will launch a door-to-door campaign in the national capital from Friday to defeat the saffron party in the Lok Sabha polls next year.
Other senior AAP leaders also celebrated the defeat of BJP.
While party MP Sanjay Singh said: “2019 will see BJP-free India”, party’s Convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal called it a “countdown” of Modi-era.
A few days later, in what was seen as a significant development, the Congress invited AAP to the swearing-in ceremonies of its Chief Ministers in three Hindi heartland states.
“The Congress has invited our party and our Chief Minister [Arvind Kejriwal] has authorized me to go as the party representative to Rajasthan,” Sanjay Singh revealed.
Even as this happened, the AAP had been becoming increasingly vocal against the BJP.
Soon after the Delhi High Court held Congress leader Sajjan Kumar guilty in the killing of some Sikhs and sentenced him to imprisonment for life, 34 long years after the brutal violence shook the national capital and other places, AAP spokesperson Saurabh Bharadwaj stated: “If exemplary punishment had been given to the perpetrators of 1984 riots, nobody would have repeated it in 2002.”
Welcoming the sentencing, Kejriwal expressed hope that those involved in the 2002 Gujarat communal riots and the 2013 Muzaffarnagar violence are also punished.
“I welcome the judgment of the High Court on Sajjan Kumar. Though it took 34 long years for the decision to come… better late than never,” Kejriwal told reporters on the sidelines of an event.
“I also hope that justice will be done for all the other mass murders which happened in the country after that, be it 2002 [Gujarat violence] or 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots… all such riots are carried out for political benefits,” he added.
Kejriwal said the people of the country want to live in peace, and Hindus and Muslims do not want to fight with each other. “Riots are carried out at the behest of political parties and political leaders. If exemplary punishments are given, no one would dare to do it in future,” he said.
Meanwhile, AAP legislator Jarnail Singh said that a law should be brought against all mob lynching incidents and communal riots.
For days later, Kejriwal lashed out at the Centre for its order to give central agencies and the Delhi Police sweeping powers to intercept computers, saying India has been living in a state of “undeclared emergency” ever since the BJP government came to power.
“India has been under undeclared emergency since May 2014. Now, in its last couple of months, the Modi government is crossing all limits by seeking control of even the citizen’s computers. Can such curtailment of fundamental rights be tolerated in the world’s largest democracy?” Kejriwal tweeted.
The AAP Convener’s reaction came after the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) issued an order giving 10 central agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Delhi Police to “intercept, monitor and decrypt any information generated, transmitted, received or stored in any computer”.
The AAP also issued a statement on the matter and called the decision “unconstitutional, undemocratic and a direct attack on citizen’s right to privacy”.
“The order is in contempt of the Supreme Court’s August 2017 verdict declaring privacy being a fundamental right. The Aam Aadmi Party will strongly oppose it in both Houses and will press the government to take it back,” the party said in the statement.
A rising number of political analysts are agreeing that the AAP may indeed play a significant role in the 2019 general elections, especially in view of the fact that the party has been holding its ground in New Delhi with some good work that is not getting lost on the national capital’s residents.
Only recently, several industry leaders and experts in electric mobility welcomed the Delhi government’s draft “Electric Vehicle Policy 2018”, aimed at ensuring adoption of 25 per cent e-vehicles among new registrations by 2023.
“The draft policy is the finest ever policy for electric vehicles I have seen. I would like to congratulate the Delhi government that they are thinking in such a direction,” Professor at IIT Madras Ashok Jhunjhunwala said at the day-long series of stakeholder consultations on the draft policy.
A former advisor to the government of India on electric vehicle policy, Jhunjhunwala also emphasized the need for innovation and better research so as to bring price parity between conventional and electric vehicles.
As the chief guest of the consultation organised by the Dialogue and Development Commission (DDC) in partnership with the Rocky Mountain Institute, Kejriwal said: “The Delhi government is fully committed to taking bold steps to fight air pollution and just like the odd-even scheme, we are ready to make all necessary efforts to transition the transport sector in Delhi to electric vehicles,” Kejriwal said as he inaugurated the consultation.
Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot, meanwhile, said the Delhi government has already made the commitment to induct 1,000 fully electric buses and “the draft policy is a further step to establish the national capital as the electric vehicle capital of India”.
At around the same time, the Delhi government passed Delhi Metro Rail Corporation’s (DMRC) 103-km long Phase-IV under which six new corridors and hundreds of new coaches will be introduced to reduce traffic and improve connectivity.
The decision was taken in a cabinetmeeting chaired by Kejriwal recently.
“Good news for Delhi. After the revolutionary improvements in education, health, electricity, water, transport will now be extensively improved. It will also reduce pollution. It is my dream that Delhi gets counted in select cities of the world. Every Delhiite – whether rich or poor – would be proud of Delhi,” Kejriwal tweeted as he shared the announcement tweet of Metro Phase-IV by Transport Minister Kailash Gahlot.
“Since the first three corridors of the Phase-IV are all elevated and cover around 55 kilometres in the national capital, the Delhi government has also decided to build one more ‘elevated flyover’ between the metro track and the main road,” Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia told the media.
He said that this plan will form a three-layer public transport system and provide better traffic flow, “since wherever elevated Metro corridors have been constructed it has been experienced that construction of roads below is impossible later on”.
“While these elevated road corridors will be constructed by the DMRC, the Delhi government will bear the entire cost,” Sisodia said.
The reforms initiated by the Kejriwal government in the education and health sectors have received praise not only from within the country but also internationally. For instance, the AAP government’s efforts towards setting up Mohalla Clinics across the city received high praise from former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan and former Prime Minister of Norway and Director-General of the World Health Organization Gro Harlem Brundtland as a brilliant move towards establishing a universal health care system.
Given these accomplishments, along with the currently charged political climate that is making the possibility of a united Opposition against the BJP, or even a Third Front, higher by the day, the AAP seems to be having an ever-improving chance of playing a consequential role in the upcoming general elections.